If I need a surgeon, dermatologist, lawyer or accountant, I don't do an RFP (define). I use a variety of other criteria to assess which option is the best fit for me. I may look at credentials, years in the field, and certifications and ask people I trust for referrals.
I'm not even qualified enough in surgery or law to know how many watts the laser scalpel should be or what the best way is to overturn a restraining order. So asking questions like these on a RFP for my surgeon or lawyer would be a waste of my time and that of the professionals being asked to participate. I don't think I'd get many takers on my medical and law RFPs, anyway.
Ad agencies, SEM (define) firms, SEO (define) firms, and those who build technology to improve the efficiency of on- and offline marketing/media spend have been dealing with RFPs for years. High-end consulting firms and many technology VARs (define), on the other hand, don't have to respond to RFPs nearly as often because the expertise they deliver is often unique to their firms, making an RFP a useless exercise.
I realize that, as with the ad agency business, the SEM business is likely stuck with RFPs. Changing the corporate culture at major advertisers to force them to make decisions the same way they do for other professions in their personal lives is unlikely to happen. The RFP is a CYA (define) document. When a vendor fails, the committee or individual managing the RFP process will point to the responses and say "Well, they answered all our questions to our liking" or "Look at how hard they worked on this RFP response. It has colored graphs and charts."
Some SEM firms, like other professions, may in fact be quite dissimilar in the way they do business and service clients. It's your job when picking vendors to distinguish these differences.
Instead of covering your tail, if you're stuck in an organization where an RFP is mandatory and you need protection if things blow up with your selected vendor, at least ask the kinds of questions that will actually help you decide if it's better to look for an SEM vendor based on a strategic, technology, tactical, and cultural fit with your firm. Better yet, ask the kinds of questions that will help you select a firm that will:
You aren't selecting a vendor with a PPC (define) SEM; you're selecting a strategic partner that, if all goes well, will accelerate your business and your personal career. Clearly asking tactical questions, such as how a vendor accomplishes keyword expansions or if it supports dayparting, will generate unnecessary work for all involved.
When an RFP is a must for your company, ask:
The following optional questions touch on areas of interest but aren't strategic. Still, they may help you understand how your prospective agency does business:
If you're lucky enough not to have to do an RFP, it might still be instructive to informally ask some of the above questions of your prospective SEM partner.
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Kevin Lee, Didit cofounder and executive chairman, has been an acknowledged search engine marketing expert since 1995. His years of SEM expertise provide the foundation for Didit's proprietary Maestro search campaign technology. The company's unparalleled results, custom strategies, and client growth have earned it recognition not only among marketers but also as part of the 2007 Inc 500 (No. 137) as well as three-time Deloitte's Fast 500 placement. Kevin's latest book, "Search Engine Advertising" has been widely praised.
Industry leadership includes being a founding board member of SEMPO and its first elected chairman. "The Wall St. Journal," "BusinessWeek," "The New York Times," Bloomberg, CNET, "USA Today," "San Jose Mercury News," and other press quote Kevin regularly. Kevin lectures at leading industry conferences, plus New York, Columbia, Fordham, and Pace universities. Kevin earned his MBA from the Yale School of Management in 1992 and lives in Manhattan with his wife, a New York psychologist and children.
June 20, 2013
1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT